Thursday, April 19, 2018
Home and Garden

New year's resolutions for the Florida gardener

I have a hard time getting excited about New Year's resolutions. Heck, I spend all year resolving to do better. After every freeze, I swear I'll plant only the most cold-hardy perennials. No wimps! Ever. Again. During hot, dry May, I curse the whiners and vow to replace my brown Bahia with a perky pink purslane meadow. Last weekend, as I finally finished carving up my mammoth blue sky vine and hauling it to the curb — tendrils still twitching! — I promised myself I will never put another aggressive vine in the ground. But my resolutions are like tulips in Tampa; possible, yes — but unlikely. At least in my garden. Still, the promise of a new year and fresh start is tempting. If my son can keep his 2012 resolution not to kill anything, not even an ant, for a whole year, shouldn't I be able to follow through on just one gardening resolution? To help, I asked local gardeners to share their 2013 resolutions. They gave me so many good ones, we may all become resolutionaries!

Kitty Wallace, Tampa, community garden coordinator for Tampa Garden Club:

"Plant more edible plants in my landscape."

Plenty of fruit trees grow with little help in our area, including fig, loquat, star fruit (left) and mulberry. Meyer lemon trees are popular and, of course, citrus trees, although they're less of a no-brainer.

How about a blackberry hedge? Rosemary and African blue basil shrubs? Sweet potato plants start easily from chunks of sweet potatoes and produce beautiful vines or compact bushes, depending on the variety.

Janice Vogt, Seminole Heights

"I want more birds in my garden. I asked for squirrel-proof feeders for Christmas."

I know the sight of a hummingbird can pretty much give Janice seizures, she gets so excited, so her resolution comes as no surprise. She recommends Wild Birds Unlimited for squirrel-proof feeders. There's a shop at 13140 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, or browse online at

Gladys Gerritsen, Largo:

"Get rid of more grass and put in Florida natives."

Gladys started replacing her turf with landscaping a year ago and doesn't have one blade remaining in her back and side yards. Now she's ready to tackle the front.

Unless you need a big play area for children or pets, wide expanses of grass can be an unnecessary drain of time, money and resources — yours and nature's. If you replace your grass with native and Florida-friendly plants, you can have a beautiful, drought-resistant landscape that requires little or no fertilizer (which costs money and can pollute our waterways).

Nicole Pinson, South Tampa, urban horticulture agent for Hillsborough Extension:

"Get rid of aggressive plants that require pruning and create piles much bigger than me that I need to dispose of (Mexican sunflower, skyvine, and lakeview jasmine, which happens to be a host plant for the Asian citrus psyllid).

"Try to remove and prevent the spread of air potato vine coming from my neighbor's yard."

Thanks for the list of plants to avoid, Nicole! My sympathies on the air potato.

Susan Gillespie, Riverview

"Move some things around and take out some others. Reworking so I get less damage from cold snaps, less watering and more self sufficient."

Susan had a bad experience with a pricey Nellie Stevens holly purchased from an arborist. These trees get rave reviews from Southern gardeners — they grow 30 to 40 feet tall, have a beautiful pyramid shape, few pest issues and are often covered with flowers or berries.

Unfortunately, Susan's Nellie turned out to be not the tree she'd wanted for privacy, but the bush variety. And, bad luck worse, the arborist went to prison, pretty much killing any chance of a refund.

Susan plans to move her little Nellie and find a real tree to take its place. And, unlike me, she probably really will pull out the scruffy stuff and plant freeze-proof, drought-tolerant Florida-friendlys — her other resolution.

Travis Raker, Orlando:

"Use less chemicals. It's been a tough battle in this yard and I needed some extra muscle to get over the hump."

Overwatering led to fungal issues for Travis' front yard lawn, which also became a favorite of grass-destroying pests. He resorted to chemicals to get things under control.

"The back is wild, but the front needs some order!" he says. "I'm learning!"

Virginia Overstreet, Seminole Heights, Hillsborough Extension staff

"Pot up native seedlings as soon as they come up in the garden.

I'm much more successful with my Gaillardia, scorpion tail, coffee, rouge plant and salvia if I dig them up when they're about 4 inches tall instead of 12 inches tall. I know several of the other master gardeners have experienced this as well."

Great tip, Virginia! I don't even need a resolution for this one.

Lynn Barber, Lithia, Florida-Friendly Landscaping agent for Hillsborough Extension:

"Mulch more; weed less. Give away more plants; buy less (maybe!).

"Spend more time on the front porch enjoying my garden; less time inside."

That last one? I'm replacing "front porch" with "backyard swing" and making it my No. 1 garden resolution for 2013.

Penny Carnathan can be reached at [email protected] You can follow her on her blog,; chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt or follow @DigginPenny on Twitter.